ATM article: Mining and the 2016 Elections

Mining and the 2016 Presidential Elections

The Philippines shall elect its new set of leaders in a few days. Ever since, and even more than four decades since the dreaded martial law regime was installed, when Marcos and cronies controlled the industries, the country has been controlled by a few powerful economic and political elites.

The biggest conglomerates in the country including San Miguel Corporation, SM Investment Corp. and big banks continue to expand their portfolio to include extractive projects. They are joined by the oldest and biggest Filipino-owned mining corporations in the country including the Romualdez’s Benguet Corporation, Zamora’s Nickel Asia Corporation, and Pangilinan’s Philex Mining Corporation. Consunji’s DMCI Holdings, Inc. initially focused on construction and coal mining, but it now has a metallic mining project in Zambales.These big businesses, among others, are not quiet players during election campaign periods. Money politics plays a part in securing business interests. For the exploitation of mineral resources, at least, these companies have benefited from the business-as-usual environment under the Ramos, Estrada, Arroyo, and Aquino administrations.

Now, the challenge to environmentalists, human rights advocates, and system change campaigners is to engage in the elections and ensure that the new set of leaders will not play the role that corporate greed dictates on them. Future leaders must be committed to a genuine sustainable development framework. We require our national and local candidates to have a human rights and environmental agenda and to commit to implementing them, should they be elected.

In a broader sense, we need leaders who will diffuse the powers long held by the oligopolies and political dynasties and bring the power back to the people.

Mining policies through the decades disempowered the poor people. The mining policies during martial law, specifically Presidential Decrees No. 463 and 1899 for large-scale and small-scale mining, respectively, were controversial. They paved the way for massive exploitation of resources by foreign and Filipino mining firms, including the alleged Marcos-owned Marcopper Mining Corporation in Marinduque, Philex and Benguet Corp. in Benguet, and Nickel Asia in Southern Palawan.

It was during President Cory Aquino’s leadership when the Peoples Small Scale Mining Act was passed. And it was under Ramos’s leadership when then Senator Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo authored the Philippine Mining Act of 1995, as a response to the demand of multilateral funding institutions and local businesses.

When Mrs. Arroyo became president, she issued Executive Orders (EOs) 270 and 270-A to aggressively encourage investments in large-scale mining in the country. This policy was adopted by President Benigno S. C. Aquino III (PNoy). He then issued EO 79 in July 2012, that aims to ensure environmental protection and responsible mining in the utilization of mineral resources and EO 147 that commits the Philippines to the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI).

Like the previous administrations, the PNoy administration has regarded the mining industry as one of the supposed “drivers of Philippine economic growth.”

The Alyansa Tigil Mina (ATM) contends that the position of the previous and present administrations is influenced by the the industry. For instance, the Chamber of Mines President Benjamin Romualdez is a political ally of former President Arroyo. The Zamoras of Nickel Asia have also been supporting presidential candidates. In the 2010 elections, their bet was PNoy and the Liberal Party.

ATM is likewise disturbed that the industry is financing the candidates in the 2016 elections. ATM presents below its findings on the position and mining links of the presidential candidates.

Vice-President Jejomar Binay said the mining industry will be his priority and will open the country to 100% foreign ownership of mines. He will implement RA7942 and will not support the passage of a law to increase mining taxes and revenues. In his speech in 2015 he added: “We must ensure that the mining taxes we implement are not higher than they already are, but fair and consistent with international best practices.”

Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago filed several Senate resolutions to investigate illegal mining in Sierra Madre and Saranggani and the involvement of government officials in mining. She has no position in pushing for a new mining law.

Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte is implementing a city no-go mining zones ordinance. He believes that the country gets too little from mining while there is social cost to communities and risks to environment. However, Alsons Consolidated Resources, Inc., which purchased the shares of Australian Indophil Resources in the Tampakan Mines, supports him.

In a Wallace Business Forum earlier this year, Duterte said he will allow mining investments as long as miners follow the Australian standard of responsible mining.

Sen. Grace Poe-Llamanzares believes that “responsible mining” is possible as long as environmental laws are followed. She is also supportive of transparency in mining (and the passage of an EITI Bill) and increasing the taxes and revenues from mining.

However, San Miguel Corporation has supported her candidacy then as Senator and now for the highest post. San Miguel Corporation, where her husband is also employed, is the biggest conglomerate in the country involved in mining. Poe has admitted to borrowing SMC planes for her campaign activities.

Manuel Roxas II while serving as DILG secretary issued a Joint Memo Circular (together with DENR Sec. Ramon Paje), declaring that all black-sand mining permits and operations in the whole country are illegal, and enjoined all LGUs to suspend all black-sand mining permits and operations.

While he has no announced position on mining, his 2012 Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth revealed his P120 million worth of shares in seven mining companies including Lepanto Consolidated Mining Company, Manila Mining Corporation, Philex Mining Corporation, Marinduque Mining and Industrial Corporation, Mindanao Mother Lake Mines, Samar Mining Company, Western Minolco Corporation. He has also been linked to SR Metals, whose plane he uses for campaign sorties.

The ATM campaign urges the candidates at the minimum to commit to human rights and environment agenda.

The Green Thumb Campaign encourages candidates to embrace a green agenda and shall hold newly elected public officials accountable on their commitments. Issues raised in the Green Thumb Campaign include biodiversity preservation and ecosystem integrity; natural resource and land use management and governance; upholding human rights and integrity of creation; climate justice; mining, extractives, and mineral resource management; energy transformation and democracy; and people-centered sustainable development.

The Human Rights Agenda for Elections 2016 on the other hand reaffirms that the State’s mandate is to uphold the dignity of every person and guarantee full respect of human rights — economic, social and cultural rights of people — as embodied in the Philippine Constitution.

To conclude, ATM will support leaders who will give back people power and real democracy and drive our nation towards sustainable development.

Note: The article has been published by Business World on May 2, 2016 in the Yellow Pad

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